Jonathan Eric Tyrrell had a choice: carry on commuting long distances for his job, or organise his life around working from home. He tells us why and how he took the decision to hit the reset button; work from home and start spending a bit more time with his family.
Two years ago I made a commitment to fundamentally change the structure of my job. It was a decision spurred by a widening disconnect between my home life and my career. Work felt separate to everything else in my life and due to commitments to travel it quite often was.
This article is born out of a conversation Sam Mestman and I started back in January about how I was reimagining work.
The conversation then was focused around my process, how I was making a conscious decision to travel less and work out of my home office more.
How I was developing projects so I could be home and creating diversity in my business so that I was not reliant on a single client or activity.
I explained that when we moved out of the city and established a little farm our goal was to create a more sustainable and resilient life for our family. We study holistic methods and look for patterns in nature to support the development of integrated, interdependent systems. I am now actively trying to apply those same principles to my day job.
Initially I’d intended my work transition to be gradual. For creative projects I knew my knowledge about post-production technology was transferrable and the tools were priced affordably so I could create a small studio, with shared storage (Jellyfish), asset management (iconik) and off-premise archive (B2).
The more significant challenge I thought would be convincing my larger clients that consulting remotely would be a viable option. World events have caught up with us. Now everybody is doing it. Suddenly the idea is not so strange. I don’t think any of us know what the world will look like once the immediate crisis subsides or what we will have learnt from this experience. I do know that I will continue to adapt and my long-term goal is to establish a model that is sustainable and resilient.
That was the original idea for this piece, to initiate a conversation around the topic of resiliency, both what that means and the practical steps we can take to create it. My approach was to start by writing about why we should be thinking about resiliency at all. The presumption then was that I would need to properly establish the context for fear that some of the ideas would be too off the wall. In the weeks since, the world has changed immeasurably. I don’t think any of you will need convincing that resiliency is a critical topic anymore. As the situation with the novel coronavirus changes by the minute and I see industry colleagues around the world adapting to the latest news, I think that all of us are asking, what will become the new normal?
The pace of current events has meant that this piece has been rewritten everyday over the past few weeks in a largely futile effort to keep it current.
For one moment last month the “big news” in our industry was the cancellation of NAB Show 2020 in Las Vegas. Then we were faced with the complete shutdown of many facets of our industry from production to exhibition. Now most everything is closed and the contemporary world looks very different at the start of April 2020, than it did in January 2020.
For a lot of us it didn’t take these big events for us to understand that something was very, very wrong. Like the news about the virus itself, the signs have been slowly creeping into our lives.
For weeks my social media had provided a steady drip of posts from peers and colleagues about cancelled projects and work drying up.
The drip became a stream and the stream a flood. The impact on each individual is different and in some cases, I recognise it is unprecedented and incalculable. I wish everyone well as we try to adjust and survive.
Now that we’re faced with the enormity of the pandemic, one of the challenges is to work through the natural shock and anxiety so we can begin to plot our path forward. I believe it is productive to think through the long-term repercussions and the actions we can take. While it’s possible to expect that the world will largely return to the previous state, I want to instead take the opportunity to take stock, question my values and preconceptions about our industry.
The truth is, in my own quiet way, I’ve been questioning how I work for some time. In 2018, I made the decision to take action.
Last year I began a process of transition, one that I hope will create fundamental change and new, more resilient models. My thinking around this is heavily influenced by steps my family and I have been taking at home to address the reshaping of our climate.
For some time our efforts have been focused on establishing a different way of life, one that better acknowledges the state of the world and is more able to adapt to unpredictable change. At home we use an established set of design principles that foreground holistic models, or “whole system thinking”. We look for patterns observed in resilient ecosystems and try to apply them to our family. This approach to life was the heart of the conversation Sam and I picked up in January. The import of which has only grown during the intervening weeks.
At home this has meant changing a lot about our pace of life and focus. One example, where we feel successful in our attempts to create resiliency involves the management of water.
When we moved into our house we learned that previous owners had struggled to maintain adequate supply of water year round and the well would invariably run dry during the height of summer. Our solution to the problem is to develop several different systems to address different facets. In practice this has meant taking steps to reduce our consumption; expanding efforts to capture and retain the water we have; and implementing a grey water system, which ensures the water we use is repurposed. This effort includes the introduction of compost toilets, but I’ll save that for a later conversation!
So far, even though the summers have been getting hotter and each year sets a new high temperature record, we have yet to deplete our resources. By working to these principles we will continue to review and to look for new ways to iteratively improve or optimise the system. The key is to not have one solution, but to have many different solutions and redundancy, all working to support the complete picture of our holistic water system.
Resiliency in post is not a new topic. We all have conversations about RAID protection and the merits of LTO. We also swap horror stories about accidental data loss, so I’m aware that lapses occur. But as important as those issues are, I’m more interested in the broader systems. What happens we expand our field of vision to look at the larger picture? Where are we most at risk?
For many independent workers, freelancers or consultants, we represent the single point of failure in our business.
If our health is compromised, our livelihood is immediately placed in jeopardy. And so we plan for this where we can. We work to mitigate risk where we can.
Initiatives like Fitness in Post have clearly struck a cord in the community and it’s important that they continue to highlight the issue. Access to appropriate technology and understanding how to use it most effectively is key. We need flexible, inexpensive and straightforward tools.
We live in a time where access to the means of creative production and distribution channels is radically different to where there were even ten years ago. It’s a long way from being universal, but it’s not what it was, as We Make Movies and initiatives like their Smart Phone Studio, which have been well documented on this site, make very apparent. A lot of us rely on our ability to travel without restriction. The current crisis has revealed how many of us have taken that privilege for granted. These are vectors that intersect my job and in future articles we will explore some of the ways I’m trying to address them.
Design models for resiliency also apply at scale. Large film crews, multiple locations and an emphasis on box office returns are wreaking havoc in the mainstream film industry.
It is fascinating to see certain television shows pivot to YouTube and grapple in real-time with an unfamiliar medium.
When we look at an institution like NAB Show, an event that has been around in various forms for almost 100 years, the cancellation is absolutely shocking, but it’s also very clear that as an institution it is in many ways uniquely vulnerable for a situation like this. The factors that are usually promoted as strengths — 90K+ attendees representing 160+ countries — are suddenly rendered major liabilities. In the face of a pandemic where large gatherings and international travel are restricted, there’s no way the show would have survived in its current form.
Like the late night talk shows, it’s interesting to see how each vendor is approaching the cancellation of NAB. My favourite response right now are my friends at Object Matrix, who will be hosting a remote booth in an event, that sounds like a cross between an infomercial and telethon, from their headquarters in Cardiff.
In speaking with Nick Pearce-Tomenius, Sales and Marketing Director at OM, about their plans, he was keen to stress how important it is for a company that has forged a brand around resiliency and business continuity to make the best of a dreadful situation. Always ready to adapt, Nick has already started the campaign with a vlog series of “Working from Home” videos and the remote booth will be another become another way to send a clear message to their partners and customers.
During our conversation, we talked at length about the significance of a show like NAB and how important it continues to be for businesses like Object Matrix to have a dedicated space for focused interactions with customers. As well as how, in a world of ubiquitous video conferencing and webinars, face-to-face interactions continue to prove vital, especially when it comes to establishing trust.
To my mind, the most fantastic aspect of the OM strategy is the way the team have let their imaginations run with this idea and create positive solutions to very difficult problems. Their response to the crisis has been to dream up an elaborate, if arguably eccentric, plans that create a new, fun way to for the team to connect with their customers.
If this adaptation proves to be a success, I joked with Nick that this could become the new normal for them. While he might need some convincing, I do wonder if they might be onto something and I think that it’s a great example of whole system thinking. I will be encouraging them to develop the ideas and building a repertoire of new systems, for resiliency, just as we keep creating new ways to manage water at home.
I would like to think that we can all learn from these examples and imagine new ways to work.
What stands out the most to me in this crisis is our fragility.
COVID-19 highlights our vulnerability, not just within our industry, but wider society. It has made an impact on how many of us conduct our daily lives and rethink actions we often take for granted. I expect that we’re also all resigned to the reality that greater changes are to still come.
The realities of a global pandemic bring into sharp relief the need for resiliency. Given the scope of the task and the many facets of the conversation, our intention is for this piece to be the first in a series of articles in which I’ll be addressing the day-to-day challenges we face and the practical actions we can take to become more resilient.
Whether you are a creative, an executive, a manufacturer, a vendor or an integrator, my hope is you will find some inspiration in these posts and join me to take action yourselves. I’d like to take a moment to thank Sam, Peter and the rest of the fcp.co team for providing the platform to tackle this discussion and encouraging me to share this journey.
Jonathan Eric Tyrrell is a filmmaker, consultant and trainer (not always in that order). He has worked with some of the largest broadcasters and content creators in the world on a range of post-production workflow projects. With his company, post post he is working to develop sustainable and resilient models for creatives. Jonathan currently lives on appleturnover farm, which his family shares with chickens, ducks, geese, goats and a cat.